Way-Too-Early NBA Predictions
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The NBA season is just over a third of the way through, and teams have played less than 30 games each. By all accounts, it’s way too early to make predictions for the league’s most prestigious awards and titles—not that that’s going to stop me. Two months of basketball is just enough time to let the craziness of the opening month settle while preserving the excitement of a new NBA season. Stars have experienced breakout starts on new teams, championship favorites have nearly fallen out of the playoffs, and teams have risen from years of purgatory to the top of the standings. Without further ado, here are some of my predictions for the 2022-23 NBA awards.
Most Valuable Player (MVP): Giannis Antetokounmpo
There are only three real candidates for the greatest individual award this year: Jayson Tatum, Luka Dončić, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. I’d like more than anything to give my preemptive award to Dončić of my beloved Dallas Mavericks, but the Mavs are sitting at 14-14 as of December 15, 2022, which is just barely good enough for the 10th seed. I have faith that the Mavs will pick up their pace and finish with a good playoff berth, but right now, I can’t award the MVP to a player on a 0.500 team when the other two candidates boast the top two records in the league.
Tatum is one of these candidates—his Celtics hold the best record in the league at 21-6, and he’s averaging 30 points and eight rebounds per game. He’s certainly on a tear; there’s nothing more impressive than watching Tatum play winning basketball. His defensive play has also elevated, as he’s averaging a steal and a block per game. This play greatly contributed to the massive blowout losses the Celtics have orchestrated against inferior opponents. Unfortunately, this level of play might not be sustainable. This is by far Tatum’s best start, but it’s coming off his most restful summer ever; this is the only year out of the past three in which Tatum had not participated in a major basketball tournament over the summer. He most recently won gold with the U.S. in the postponed 2020 Olympics. It makes sense that he’d have a strong start with the restful summer. As the season goes on, Tatum will most likely slow down. There’s little doubt that the Celtics will finish as a top-three seed and that they’ll go deep in the playoffs, but this level of production from Tatum is unlikely to be sustained over the course of an eight-month season.
That leaves Antetokounmpo. He already has two MVPs, and he looks to be on pace for another season of that caliber. He’s averaging an extraordinary 31 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists to start, but, unlike Tatum, these averages are similar to his final averages from previous seasons, so I have faith that they aren’t just an outlier caused by a restful summer. The question that should be asked then, is, if his averages are similar to his past seasons, what sets this year apart from the others? and the answer to that question is that nothing has to. He won the MVP in 2019 and 2020, and since then, his consistency has been his greatest strength. With Nikola Jokić, the MVP winner in 2021 and 2022, experiencing a poor start to this season, the path is clear for Antetokounmpo to reclaim his throne.
Rookie Of The Year (ROY): Paolo Banchero
Here’s a pretty easy one. Paolo Banchero ruled the ROY ladder for the first month of the 2022-23 NBA season, even dropping back-to-back 30-point games before he sustained a sprained ankle. He then missed seven games with that injury, which would’ve dropped any normal rookie a few spots in the rankings. Not Banchero. He came roaring right back to the top of the standings and led the Magic to a four-game winning streak, during all of which Banchero has had over 20 points, including a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double against the Raptors.
Defensive Player Of The Year (DPOY): Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez is putting up a dominant defensive campaign. While his teammate, Antetokounmpo, is putting up a DPOY-caliber season as well, my award goes to Lopez. He’s averaging a league-leading three blocks per game, which is incredible for a 35-year-old in his 15th season. Lopez adds to the “twin tower” defense that the Bucks have leaned on to rise to second in the Eastern Conference, and his defensive game definitely stands out in a season, that, as of right now, has no clear defensive favorite.
Most Improved Player (MIP): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
I might look like a hypocrite for giving Shai Gilgeous-Alexander my MIP award when I didn’t consider Dončić’s dominant season because of his team’s poor record. Though OKC sits at just the 13th seed in the Western Conference, Gilgeous-Alexander’s impact has been undeniable. He improved by a whopping six points per game, going from 24.5 points per game last year to being a leading scorer in the league this year with 30.8 points per game. The other candidate for this award would be Tyrese Haliburton, who went up from 17/9 last year to 20/11 averages, leading the league in assists and holding the Pacers at the ninth seed in the East, but Gilgeous-Alexander has just been filling the stat sheet too much for there to be a real chance of Haliburton winning.
NBA Champions: Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have appeared no less than three times in five awards, which is a testament to their strength as a team. As I’ve mentioned, they have the second-best record in the league at 19-7. Their strength comes from their terrifying tandem of impenetrable defense and overpowering offense. On their side of the court, Jrue Holiday is one of the best defensive wings in the league, averaging 1.5 steals a game and generally locking down the opposing team’s best perimeter players. In the paint, almost nothing can get past the starting frontcourt of Lopez and Antetokounmpo, who are averaging a combined four blocks per game. For the tired perimeter player who manages to get past the unforgiving hands of Holiday, the pressure of two athletic seven-footers in the paint is often too much. On the offensive side of the court, Antetokounmpo continues to be dominant in transition and off the dribble. Every week, another otherworldly clip of him dunking through or on four opposing players at once surfaces. When Antetokounmpo isn’t throwing around his 250-pound frame, both Holiday and Lopez can pick up the slack, as each of them is averaging 20 points through the first 30 games. All in all, the Bucks’ defense, ranked second in the league, and their blitzing offense make them the team to beat next June.